Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Arnold Hatherleigh Matters (1901–1990)

by David Swale

This article was published:

Arnold Hatherleigh Matters (1901-1990), baritone and opera producer, was born on 11 April 1901 at Malvern, Adelaide, youngest of four children of South Australian-born Richard Adams Matters, ironmonger, and his wife Emily Grace, née Williams. Educated at Unley High School, in 1916 Arnold joined the staff of the South Australian Treasury, and was admitted as an associate of the Federal Institute of Accountants in 1925. His musical interests were fostered by his membership of the Malvern Methodist Church choir. He studied part time with Frederick Bevan and Clive Carey at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide, and gained the diploma of associate in music (singing) in 1926.

In 1927 Matters won the Sun Operatic Aria competition at Ballarat, Victoria, and was invited by Dame Nellie Melba    to sing with her at a concert in Melbourne. Resigning from the Treasury in 1930, he travelled to London where, on a scholarship, he studied with W. Johnstone-Douglas at the Webber–Douglas School of Singing, and again with Carey, at the Royal College of Music. In the 1930s he was bass soloist in the choir of Westminster Abbey, and sang at King George VI’s coronation in 1937. Joining the Vic-Wells (Sadler’s Wells) Opera Company in 1932 and named principal baritone, he made his first appearance that year as Valentin in Gounod’s Faust. On 4 April 1933 at the parish church of St James, Westminster, he married Rose Ellen Waters, from Adelaide.

In 1935 Matters made his début at Covent Garden as the herald in Wagner’s Lohengrin. For over twenty-five years, apart from a period (1940-46) when he was back in Australia (where he gave recitals and toured for the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Army Education Service), he appeared regularly for Sadler’s Wells in major roles, including Don Giovanni, Wotan in Wagner’s Die Walküre, and Falstaff. In 1948 he sang the lead role in the first British performance of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra. He created the roles of Pilgrim in Vaughan Williams’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1951) and Cecil in Britten’s coronation opera, Gloriana (1953). Considered a stalwart of the company, he had a warm voice, ‘faultless diction’ and a gift for characterisation. He also freelanced and often performed in programs for the British Broadcasting Corporation. In the 1950s he taught singing and produced operas at the Royal College of Music.

Back in Australia by 1957, Matters produced Tosca and Otello for the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust. He taught (1959-66) at the Elder Conservatorium; Thomas Edmonds, Robert Dawe, Kandiah Kamalesvaran (Kamahl) and Gillian Sullivan were among his many students. In Adelaide he produced operas—including works by Gluck (Iphigenia in Tauris), Verdi (Don Carlos and Nabucco) and Puccini (Madama Butterfly)—and a wide range of small-scale works for the Intimate Opera Group. He himself played Falstaff in 1963. Straightforward, kind and polite in his relations with others, he was a good administrator and a respected colleague. His last public performance was in Adelaide in 1981. One of the best loved Australian singers of his generation, he was appointed OAM in 1985. Childless, and predeceased by his wife, he died on 21 September 1990 at Westbourne Park, Adelaide, and was cremated. Each year the Adelaide Eisteddfod Society awards the Arnold Matters vocal scholarship.

Select Bibliography

  • A. D. McCredie (ed), From Colonel Light into the Footlights (1988)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 13 Nov 1940, p 7, 22 Sept 1990, p 12
  • Times (London), 26 Sept 1990, p 14
  • Opera (London), Nov 1990, p 1311
  • Daily Telegraph (London), 1 Dec 1990, p 19
  • SP173/1, item MATTERS ARNOLD, and SP1011/1, item 3267 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Matters papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

David Swale, 'Matters, Arnold Hatherleigh (1901–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 April, 1901
Malvern, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


21 September, 1990 (aged 89)
Westbourne Park, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Religious Influence

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